Farr: Checkout encounter

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(HOST) Commentator Bruce Farr recently visited his local supermarket and came away with something other than groceries.

(FARR) We’ve all had one of those moments when, out of nowhere, we witness something that seems so blatantly wrong and outrageous that, when it happens, we’re simply struck mute with disbelief.  It’s only later-when we get in the car or get back home-that we dream up a thousand things we would have said, could have said, or should have said.

I had one of those moments just the other day, in the local grocery store.  I was standing in line behind a middle-aged couple, waiting to check out.  The girl at the register was trying to solve some problem for a customer in front of them, and it was taking a little bit of time.

All of a sudden the woman spun around and, with an angry scowl, declared loudly, "They need to hire somebody who speaks English at these registers!"  
Now, I happen to know that, every so often, this store works through an international organization to hire a handful of college students from other countries.  Last winter, four girls from Brazil worked the registers for a few months and lived in town.  And, this summer, several Chinese girls from Beijing are checking out our groceries and getting familiar with Vermont.

At the beginning of the season when the girls started, I found it charming how they struggled so hard to greet us in English and, before we left, smiled somewhat awkwardly and bid us to "Have a nice day!" It made me think about the first time I was in a foreign country, and how helpless I felt.

But, back to the angry woman: there I was outraged at what I’d just heard her say, but, instead of getting indignant and giving her a piece of my mind, I stood there shocked and said nothing.

The next day, I asked the grocery store manager about the program and he told me that the chain he works for takes pride in helping these students experience a few months in the U.S.  Besides, he said that when business picks up at certain times of the year, they can’t find enough local help to fill the need, so it’s good business for them too.

I don’t know; maybe the woman was simply having a bad day and feeling cranky.  Yet, I couldn’t help but read more into it.  Thinking about the intolerance and incivility that seems to be cropping up like an epidemic in the U.S. these days, it troubled me to consider that this might be just one more example of our growing national tendency toward narrow-mindedness.

I don’t want to sound preachy, but tolerance and civility used to be things we Americans were proud of.  And goodwill toward people from other lands? That was something this country was founded on, wasn’t it?

So let me say now to that lady what I might have said then:  I think it would help if some of us remembered who we are, and maybe more importantly, where we all come from.

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